Friday, June 25, 2010

Shelter | Street: Karma Tenzing Wangchuk

Karma Tenzing Wangchuk is a poet of the short form whom I admire very much. A new collection of his poems, Shelter | Street, pictured above, has been published by Minotaur Press (P.O Box 272, Port Townsend, WA 98368, $10) and found its way into my mail box. It is quite fine, indeed.

The volume opens with one of his best poems and its placement indicates the themes of struggle and homelessness that appear in its opening pages:

March winds-
a butterfly and I
struggle on

The poem is timeless and might just as well been written by one of the 4 haiku masters. So few words are used to capture a life, all of life really. Sorrow and pain permeate these powerful small poems:

Food Bank-
the wall we lean against
worn smooth

The detail is damning here, such a powerful image that passes unnoticed in more fortunate lives. In the following poem, the first two lines quickly state something many of us see each and everyday, yet the observation in the third line I would venture to say hardly anyone thinks:

the beggar
holding out his hand-
this too is work

In reading this first section of haiku and senryu, one is tempted to impose a narrative character to the whole. With these poems, I think of the persona as a true modern Everyman:

Palm Sunday-
the sign says FREE FOOD
but you have to kneel for it

I found the following poem, which I would characterize as a senryu rather than a haiku, though no person appears, devastating:

greasy spoon-
a fly emerges
from the plastic flower

For me, there is a powerful identification between the perceived and the perceiver; why they are there, what they are doing, and, frankly, their shared experience, their shared existence. The poet has found words to sketch what I would have thought simply beyond capturing in such a deep, resonating way. The sadness is huge, it is mind-numbing.

Further on in this volume, there are poems from an ongoing series that might be titled the "Stone Buddha" poems. In fact, the previous volume of KTW's I reviewed here is entitled just that, Stone Buddha. There is a selection of 13 here, 2 of which I recognize and singled out before. A few from this selection are either new to me or have struck me now when they didn't before, which amounts to much the same thing, eh? 2 more this time grabbed me and wouldn't let go:

first crocus-
the stone buddha's
gentle smile

stone buddha-
never a thought
for himself

The common quality here is that both of these are simply true. For me, the second resonates in such a profound way as to make it nearly perfect. Both have an enduring Zen quality, while remaining true to the "is." Another poem that captures a quality beyond its basic image is:

summer heat-
a fly relaxes
on the frog's back

There are a number of precepts in this collection reminiscent of the Four Nobles Truths and the Eightfold Way, all in less words than it takes to describe them. Least we confuse the moon with the finger pointing at it, the poet summarizes nicely:

Farmer's Market-
the fruit flies point out
the ripe ones

On one hand, what is being emphasized is the obvious; yet are we, poetry's audience, always attentive and aware, attentive and unaware, unattentive and unaware? Who better to point to the moon than the poet?

growing old
with the rest of me
...-my skeleton

Yes, obvious, but not often stated and, when stated, not often thought about in any extended way, such as:

my shadow ephemeral too

Sorrow and pain are never far from truth; a finger pointing at the path of paths:

no parents
left to shame now
...-winter rain

An almost traditional senryu, complete with seasonal allusion, and a near bottomless feeling, this poem, too, is timeless.

Sometimes, too, the magic and wonder and mystery of life can be encompassed in 9 brief words, 3 short lines:

it's the worm
inside the bird
sings the song

Is the finger pointing at the bird, or the worm, or the song, or something beyond? Oh, but the finger is mine not the poet's, you say. Really?

Bet you can read my mind.

One can go deep, deep into many of these poems and this is what gives them their close kinship to traditional haiku. Some are basic observations which, though they might not reward endless revisiting, still they grab hold when they bite, and they itch for sometime afterward.

Photo by Michael Dylan Welch


Here are two poems, originally published side by side in Lilliput Review #148, February 2008, that make something of a set piece.

Rhododendron in a Time of War
Red petals clot on
its glossy exterior
then drop to stained ground.
Corey Cook

Tree sheds red petals.
Out of respect,
I forget my name,
Mat Favre


cheeks stuffed
with a red flower
the katydid sings
translated by David G. Lanoue



Charles Gramlich said...

That first one, with the butterfly is just awesome. This the kind of thing I'd like to be able to do with my own poetry but so seldom, seldom can accomplish. the connect. I'm just not observent enough for it.

Anonymous said...

I agree. This is a wonderful collection. He has a nice honesty and wonder to his work that is missing in other 'zen' writers


awyn said...

What a truly wonderful find this morning. They are amazing poems. I keep wanting to back and re-read them. Very easy to observe something; it takes a master to make a brilliant haiku of it. Thanks so much for posting these, Don.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, I'm glad you enjoyed these. Paying attention is at the core of all things, a goal I always have in mind ...

Thanks, paul, KTW's work is among my favorites.

awyn, you are welcome. Glad the KTW's poems put a good spin on a new day.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

I realize that yesterday I did not post contact info for Minotaur Press. I've appended it here and in the post itself:

Minotaur Press, P.O Box 272, Port Townsend, WA 98368, $10

Ed Baker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Issa's Untidy Hut said...


KTW says it grew back ...

and I'm going to stop paying attention.

Just received the beautiful "De:Sire Is" ...

Ed Baker said...

first book of a trilogy
precedes what you published
as second book : SHE INTRUDES

third book, ARS POETIC HER,
as yet unpublished. ... &
unexpurgated /// a real


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ed, thanks so much for the overview of the trilogy in the making. Don

Ken Sawitri said...

Thank you, Don.
a deep bow to you and KTW
and I learn to deepen my bow to ".. any good haiku--in fact, any thing (--is a teacher)*."
a bow,

*) Karma Tenzing Wangchuk

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Cheers, Ken ... thanks for digging in the archive for the gems that are KTW's.